Dr. Quintard Taylor, Jr.
Scott and Dorothy Bullitt
Professor of American History
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African American History | African American History in the West (Now available at www.blackpast.org)  

History 313:
The History of African Americans in the West
Manual - Chapter 4
Reconstruction in the West

Introduction | Chap. 1 | Chap. 2 | Chap. 3 | Chap. 4 | Chap. 5 | Chap. 6 | Chap. 7 | Chap. 8 | Chap. 9 | Chap. 10

CHAPTER FOUR: Reconstruction in the West

Reconstruction is usually associated with the defeated South during the decade following the Civil War. Yet, as the vignettes in this chapter reflect, the political process also involved western states and territories which had to define new relationships between their white and black citizens. The first vignette, Felix Haywood Remembers the Day of Jubilo depicts one Texas slave's immediate response to his freedom. Juneteenth: Birth of an African American Holiday shows how western blacks have permanently incorporated the celebration of the Texas Emancipation Proclamation while Bill Simms Migrates to Kansas shows the post-war response of a Missouri ex-slave to his new freedom. The vignette Reconstruction Violence in Texas: John Wesley Hardin describes the conditions the freedpeople faced right after the war while Comanche War Parties in Texas is a reminder that the state had both a reconstruction and frontier legacy. The vignette Black Kansans Call for Equal Rights suggests that the freedpeople in the West are intent on demanding full citizenship. Symbolic of that citizenship in the minds of many freedpeople was the nation's embrace of the Fifteenth Amendment. The vignettes Henry O Wagoner, Jr., on Black Rights, Black Voting Rights: The View from the Far West, and Black Voting Rights: A Hawaiian Newspaper's Response, illustrate both the black campaign for the Fifteenth Amendment and white support for the measure. The Reconstruction Amendments: Oregon's Response, however, reminds us that such support was not universal in the region. The vignettes The Elevator Celebrates Passage of the Fifteenth Amendment and Helena Citizens Celebrate Their New Rights reflect black hopes with the amendment's eventual passage. School Segregation Comes to Portland, however, indicates that ratification of the amendments did not ensure equal rights for African Americans.

Terms for Week Four:

  • Texas Emancipation Proclamation
  • "Juneteenth"
  • Texas Black Codes
  • Matthew Gaines
  • George T. Ruby
  • Edmund Davis
  • Texas Republican Party
  • Texas State Police
  • Freedperson "adoption"
  • Allen Wilson Case
  • Portland's Colored School, 1867
  • Dr. W. H. C. Stephenson
  • William Jefferson Hardin
  • Territorial Suffrage Act, 1867
  • Lewis Douglass
  • Charles H. Langston
  • Henry O. Wagoner, Jr.


Felix Haywood, born a slave in Raleigh, North Carolina, gained his freedom in San Antonio, Texas, in the summer of 1865 when word finally reached Texas. In this interview Haywood recalls the day of emancipation.

Soldiers, all of a sudden, was everywhere--coming in bunches, crossing and walking and riding. Everyone was a-singing. We was all walking on golden clouds. Hallelujah!

Union forever
Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
Although I may be poor,
I'll never be a slave
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

Everybody went wild. We felt like heroes, and nobody had made us that way but ourselves. We was free. Just like that, we was free. It didn't seem to make the whites mad, either. They went right on giving us food just the same. Nobody took our homes away, but right off colored folks started on the move. They seemed to want to get closer to freedom, so they'd know what it was like it was a place or a city. Me and my father stuck, close as a lean tick to a sick kitten. The Gudlows started us out on a ranch. My father, he'd round up cattle unbranded cattle for the whites. They was cattle that they belonged to, all right; they had gone to find water 'long the San Antonio River and the Guadalupe. Then the whites gave me and my father some cattle for our own. My father had his own brand 7 B) and we had a herd to start out with of seventy.

We knowed freedom was on us, but we didn't know what was to come with it. We thought we was going to get rich like the white folks. We thought we was going to be richer than the white folks, 'cause we was stronger and knowed how to work, and the whites didn't, and they didn't have us to work for them any more. But it didn't turn out that way. We soon found out that freedom could make folks proud, but it didn't make 'em rich.

Did you ever stop to think that thinking don't do any good when you do it too late? Well, that's how it was with us. If every mother's son of a black had thrown 'way his hoe and took up a gun to fight for his own freedom along with the Yankees, the war'd been over before it began. But we didn't do it. We couldn't help stick to our masters. We couldn't no more shot 'em than we could fly. My father and me used to talk 'bout it. We decided we was too soft and freedom wasn't going to be much to our good even if we had a educa¬tion.

Source: Robert D. Marcus and David Burner, America Firsthand: From Reconstruction to the Present (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989), p. 11.


In a brief 1992 article for the Eugene Register Guard I attempted to explain the origins of the Juneteenth holiday. Part of that article is reprinted below.

Freedom came in many guises to the four million African Americans who had been enslaved at the beginning of the Civil War. Some fortunate black women and men were emancipated as early as 1861 when Union forces captured outlying areas of the Confederacy such as the Sea Islands of South Carolina, the Tidewater area of Virginia (Hampton and Norfolk) or New Orleans from 1861 onward. Other black slaves emancipated themselves by exploiting the disruption of war to run away to freedom, which in some instances was as close as the nearest Union Army camp. President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation liberated all blacks residing in territory captured from the Confederates after January 1, 1863. These slaves did not have to run for their freedom, they merely had to wait for Federal troops to arrive.

Emancipation for the majority of African Americans, however, came only in 1865 when Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Federal forces....at Appomattox Court House in Virginia. With that surrender the....rebellion was over. News of Lee's surrender spread quickly through the former slave states east of the Mississippi River. Texas, however was another matter. Isolated from both Union and Confederate forces, Texas during the Civil War, had become a place of refuge for slaveholders seeking to insure that their "property" would not hear of freedom. Through April, May, and part of June, 1865, they did not. Finally on June 19, 1865, freedom officially arrived when Federal troops landed at Galveston, Texas. Word of emancipation gradually spread over the state despite the efforts of some slaveholders to maintain slavery.

But African Americans would not be denied the liberty that had eluded them so long. When the news came entire plantations were deserted. Many blacks brought from Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri during the War, returned home while Texas freedpersons headed for Galveston, Houston and other cities where Federal troops were stationed. Although news of emancipation came at different times during that Texas summer of 1865, local blacks gradually settled on June 19 (Juneteenth) as their day of celebration. Beginning in 1866 they held parades, picnics, barbecues, and gave speeches in remembrance of their liberation. By 1900 the festivities had grown to include baseball games, horse races, railroad excursions, and formal balls. By that time Juneteenth had officially become Texas Emancipation Day and was sponsored by black churches and civic organizations. Indeed, Juneteenth had become so respectable that white politicians including various Texas governors addressed the largest gatherings (which sometimes included upwards of 5,000 people) in Houston and Dallas. Juneteenth had surpassed the Fourth of July as the biggest holiday of the year for Texas African Americans.

With the migration of African Americans from Texas to the West Coast particularly during World War II, Juneteenth simultaneously declined in Texas and grew in the emerging black communities of Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and San Diego. And some communities east of Texas such as Washington, D.C., and Birmingham, Alabama, began celebrations as well. But by the 1970s many blacks, including those in Texas, had forgotten the holiday's origins and its significance in African American history....

Source: Quintard Taylor, "The Juneteenth Celebration, 1865-1992," Eugene Register-Guard, June 8, 1992, pp. 1D, 4D.


John Wesley Hardin is remembered as the most notorious 19th Century Texas gunfighter in a state famous for such men and in an era which produced violent contemporaries such as Jesse James and Billy the Kid. Between his first killing in 1868 and his imprisonment in 1878, Hardin killed twenty men. Yet unlike the other two "outlaws," Hardin's targets were often African Americans including his first victim in 1868. That blacks were his frequent victims partly stemmed from the highly charged racial politics of Reconstruction where white men often justified their attacks by pointing to the "oppressive" Republican government headed by Governor Edward Davis which was in power in Austin at that time. In 1895 Hardin was shot and killed in an El Paso saloon. The vignette below, taken from Hardin's autobiography, describes his 1871 encounter with African American members of the Texas State Police.

E.J. Davis was governor then, and his State Police were composed of carpetbaggers, scalawags from the North, with ignorant Negroes frequently on the force. Instead of protecting life, liberty, and property, they frequently destroyed it. We all know that many members of this State Police outfit were members of some secret vigilant band, especially in DeWitt and Gonzales counties. We were all opposed to mob law and so soon became enemies. The consequence was that a lot of Negro police made a raid on me without lawful authority. They went from house to house looking for me and threatening to kill me, and frightening the women and children to death.

They found me at a small grocery store in the southern portion of Gonzales County. I really did not know they were there until I heard some one say, "Throw up your hands or die!"

I said "all right," and turning around saw a big black Negro with his pistol cocked and presented. I said, "Look out, you will let that pistol go off, and I don't want to be killed accidentally."

He said, "Give me those pistols."

I said "all right," and handed him the pistols, handle foremost. One of the pistols turned a somerset [sic] in my hand and went off. Down came the Negro, with his pistol cocked and as I looked outside, I saw another Negro on a white mule firing into the house at me. I told him to hold up, but he kept on, so I turned my Colt's .45 on him and knocked him off his mule with my first shot. I turned around then to see what had become of No. 1 and saw him sprawling on the floor with a bullet through the head, quivering in blood. I walked out of the back door to get my horse and when I got back to take in the situation, the big Negro on the white mule was making for the bottom at a 2:40 gait. I tried to head him off, but he dodged and ran into a lake. I afterwards learned that he stayed in there with his nose out of the water until I left. The Negro I killed was named Green Paramoor and the one on the white mule was a blacksmith from Gonzales named John Lackey...

News of this, of course, spread like fire, and myself and friends declared openly against Negro or Yankee mob rule and misrule in general. In the meantime the Negroes of Gonzales and adjoining counties had begun to congregate at Gonzales and were threatening to come out to the Sandies and with torch and knife depopulate the entire country. We at once got together about 25 men good and true and sent these Negroes word to come along, that we would not leave enough of them to tell the tale. They had actually started, but some old men from Gonzales talked to them and made them return to their homes. From that time on we had no Negro police in Gonzales...

Soon after this I took a trip to see some relatives in Brenham, and nothing of interest happened until I returned.

A posse of Negroes from Austin came down after me, and I was warned of their coming. I met them prepared and killed three of them. They returned sadder and wiser. This was in September, 1871...

Source: John Wesley Hardin, The Life of John Wesley Hardin: As Written By Himself (Norman, 1961), pp. 61-63.


Strangely, while blacks and whites, Republicans and Democrats, East Texans and South Texans all carried on parallel struggles for control of the post-war state government, white and black Texans on the state's vast western frontier often made common cause against an old enemy, Comanche raiders. The vignettes below however show the complexity of that struggle. The first part of the vignette describes a Comanche raid which resulted in the death of an African American youth. The second part describes a Comanche war party that included at least one black and one Hispanic raider. Part three discusses Comanche retaliation after one of their chiefs, a black man, was killed.

Settlers along the Texas frontier suffered terribly just after the war, and none were more exposed than the herder folk on the edge of the plains. Late in the summer of 1867, Governor J.W. Throckmorton wrote to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton that since Appomattox, Indians had killed 162 Texans and wounded or carried off many more. He estimated that they had also stolen thirty-one thousand cattle and almost three thousand horses. Clear Fork settlers during the war had remained on constant alert for the rare but ever threatening encounters with Indians. Now, without troops to help check the onslaught, they felt even more vulnerable to the large-scale raids that had so frequently plagued their neighbors in the Cross Timbers.

[In the summer of 1865] Indians hit the Clear Fork country in the first of three raids that confirmed the settlers' worst fears. Phil Reynolds, a single man unrelated to the herder family, had departed from the Ledbetter Salt Works for a load of wood when some Indians ambushed his wagon and killed him about ten miles from the mine. Reynold's oxen wandered off the road and into a tree, knocking his lifeless body from the driver's seat. Some men later came upon him and found the team lodged in the branches of another tree about a mile away.

About the same time, near old Camp Cooper, two dozen or so warriors attacked seven cow hunters who had left Fort Davis to set up a residence closer to their herds. One of the stockmen, Press McCarty, fled to the post to warn their families. J.A. Browning also made it back, but everyone feared the worst when the others failed to return by nightfall. Their apprehensions were surely justified. John Hittson had been wounded in the hip; an arrow had pinned his brother William to his saddle. They still managed to lead the others to the shelter of a ledge on nearby Tecumseh Creek. Freeman Ward, a black youth with the group, never reached safety, however. The fatal mistake of stopping to retrieve his hat allowed the raiders time to overtake him; as Ward resumed flight, they ran his horse into some boulders and then slaughtered him, according to a chronicler...

* * *

While the U.S. Army staged campaigns against the Plains Indians north of the Canadian and Red rivers between 1866 and the end of the decade, it all but ignored the threat to life and Anglo expansion south of Indian Territory. The Department of the Missouri, encompassing most of the Great Plains, did not extend its jurisdiction into Texas, which remained coupled with Louisiana under the same administrative umbrella until 1871. Thus, at the same time that the army was spending millions harassing Indians from Oklahoma to Montana, Comanches and Kiowas who raided Texas farms and ranches almost unchecked, enjoyed a lucrative trade with New Mexican Comancheros. Throughout the former Confederacy, the military focus remained on occupation. General Sheridan demonstrated how little he knew about the pioneers' situation when he marveled that "over a white man killed by Indians on an extensive frontier the greatest excitement will take place," while Texans voiced little concern over "the killing of many freedmen in [eastern Texas]."

By 1867 many pioneers had come to depend upon their own resources for protection. In April some of the Clear Fork herders exacted revenge against the Comanches for recent raids. T.E. Jackson, John and Mitch Anderson, Silas Hough, George and William Reynolds, and several others pursued a party of warriors to the Double Mountain Fork of the Brazos near the Haskell-Stonewall County line, where they noticed a large cloud of dust kicked up by running buffalo. A closer look revealed seven Indians--actually, five Comanches, accompanied by a Hispanic man and an African American in Indian clothing--slaughtering one of the beasts. Abandoning their quarry, the warriors charged the cow hunters. One "Indian" all but emptied two six-shooters in the direction of George Reynolds, who had separated from the others. The herder dropped the warrior from his horse, however, and later killed him by breaking his neck. Another of the Comanches shot Reynolds with an arrow, its iron spike lodging in his back, where it was to remain for several years. The cattlemen soon forced the warriors into a full retreat, with Silas Hough hotly chasing the one who had wounded his friend. He soon returned with several trophies, including the Indian’s scalp. In all, they had lifted the hair from five corpses and left another adversary mortally wounded...

* * *

When [Comanche] raiders struck the Clear Fork country one inclement spring day in 1868, the full might of the combined forces--stockmen, soldiers, and Indian scouts--enjoyed the singular occasion of a complete rout. A group of herders was the first to encounter the war party. At a roundup near Battle Creek, just south of Shackleford County, one of the stockmen raised his head into the cold, stiff wind and blowing sand and spotted a Comanche. He quickly rallied a force to scout the area, and at a nearby rise cowboys and Indians came face-to-face. The well-armed herders soon outgunned the bows and arrows of their more numerous adversaries, forcing the war party from the field. After the skirmish the stockmen combed the countryside; in a small grove of live oaks they found George Hazelwood lying dead with more than a dozen shells and several curious-looking black arrows scattered around his body. Gone were his Spencer rifle, pistol, and horse. On further investigation the men found a dead warrior and evidence that Hazelwood had wounded at least two others...

The dawn attack on March 6, 1868, was short and one-sided. The Tonkawas particularly relished the initial assault, savaging their rivals [the Comanches] with guns, knives, and clubs. The whites briefly suspended the action to question the survivors, who explained that they had fashioned the black arrows found near Hazelwood's body to honor their war chief--an African American whom the settlers had killed the previous day. The troopers believed that he was Cato, an occasional resident of Fort Concho. After learning this curious revelation, the soldiers unleashed the Tonkawas to complete the massacre. A tall, broad-shouldered scout named Johnson reportedly “came out of the fight with seven scalps dangling at his belt...

Source: Ty Cashion, A Texas Frontier: The Clear Fork Country and Fort Griffin, 1849-1887, (Norman, Oklahoma 1996), pp. 82, 86-87, 105-106.


Missouri freedman Bill Simms hardly fits the image of black emigrants to post Civil War Kansas. Born a slave near Osceola, Missouri, in 1839, he joined the Union Army during the Civil War but returned home after the conflict where his former owner gave the family forty acres of valuable timberland. When the owner's heirs disputed the gift, Simms and his family were forced to flee to adjoining Claire County, but as he states in his narrative, "I wanted to see Kansas, the state I had heard so much about." His narrative, part of a 1936 WPA interview conducted when Simms was 97 years old, continues below:

I couldn't get nobody to go with me, so I started out afoot across the prairies for Kansas. After I got some distance from home it was all prairie. I had to walk all day long following buffalo trail. At night I would go off a little ways from the trail and lay down and sleep. In the morning I'd wake up and could see nothing but the sun and prairie. Not a house, not a tree, no living thing, not even could I hear a bird. I had little to eat, I had a little bread in my pocket. I didn't even have a pocket knife, no weapon of any kind. I was not afraid, but I wouldn't start out that way again. The only shade I could find in the daytime was the rosin weed on the prairie. I would lay down so it would throw the shade in my face and rest, then get up and go again. It was in the spring of the year in June.

I came to Lawrence, Kansas, where I stayed two years working on the farm. In 1874 I went to work for a man by the month at $35 a month and I made more money than the owner did, because the grasshoppers ate up the crops. I was hired out to cut up the corn for him, but the grasshoppers ate it up first. He could not pay me for sometime. Grasshoppers were so thick you couldn't step on the ground without stepping on a dozen at each step. I got my money and came to Ottawa in December 1874, about Christmas time...

Ottawa was very small at the time I came here, and there were several Indians close by that used to come to town. The Indians held their war dance on what is now the courthouse grounds. I planted the trees that are now standing on the courthouse grounds. I still panted trees until three or four years ago. There were few farms fenced and what were, were on the streams. The prairie land was all open. This is what North Ottawa was, nothing but prairie north of Logan Street, and a few houses between Logan Street and the river. Ottawa didn't have many business houses. There was also an oil mill where they bought castor beans, and made castor oil on the north side of the Marias des Cygnes River one block west of Main Street. There was one hotel, which was called Leafton House and it stood on what is now the southwest corner of Main and Second Streets...

The people lived pretty primitive. We didn't have kerosene. Our only lights were tallow candles, mostly grease lamps, they were just a pan with grease in it, and one end of the rag dragging out over the side which we would light. There were no sewers at that time.

I had no chance to go to school when a boy, but after I came to Kansas I was too old to go to school, and I had to work, but I attended night school, and learned to read and write and figure...

Source: George P. Rawick, ed., The American Slave: A Composite Autobiography Volume 16, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and Tennessee Narratives (Westport, Connecticut, 1972), pp. 10-12.


In October 1866, a group of black men met in Lawrence, Kansas, to proclaim their political equality and to call for the removal of racial restrictions on suffrage and civil rights. Their conference issued an "Address to the Citizens of Kansas," which argued their case. Part of the address is reprinted below.

We address you on the sacred subject of Human Liberty and the Equal Rights of Man. "Hear us for our cause." Assembled as we are in the State Convention, to adopt measures for our moral and intellectual improvement, which depends mainly upon ourselves, we would call your attention most earnestly to our constitutional and legal disabilities, the removal of which depends mainly upon you.

We are among you, constituting a portion of the permanent inhabitants of this young and growing commonwealth. We have been identified with its past troubles. We are identified in its present prosperity. We are laboring, like yourselves, to make for it a future greatness. God, by the fortunes of war, placed us in your midst. No scheme of....colonization will ever induce us to leave our adopted home. Since, then, we are to remain among you, bearing our share of the burden of the government of the Sate and the nation, we believe it is unjust, unwise, inhuman and impolitic, to continue in force a constitution and laws which take from us, as a class, many of our dearest natural and justly inalienable rights....

We seek no favors. We do not desire social equality. But we do demand equality before the law. We seek complete emancipation--full and perfect enfranchisement--absolute legal equality....

That we are men, no sane man will question. Being men, then, we have justly the right of self-government. Every man is properly the judge of his own actions; he and he only has the right to say by what rule or law these actions are to be performed. Hence, governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. All political power is inherent in the people--not in any particular privileged class, but in....the whole people. Self-government is not one of the incidents of humanity, but one of its necessities. It is not a something for which men may be prepared. It is not an attainment. It is not a reward for conduct. It is not an honor conferred by society. It is not a prerogative given by the government. With less than self-government, man is less than man.... The right to exercise the elective franchise is an inseparable part of self-government and is one of the inherent rights of man. No man, white or black, can justly be deprived of this right. The right of suffrage is not a conventional privilege merely, which may be withheld from any class of citizens at the will of the majority, but a right as sacred and inviolable as the right of life, liberty or property....

Having presented these considerations, we must leave our cause in your hands.... The power to redress our wrongs, and to grant us our just rights, is vested in you. You, for the present, must determine our destiny. We are among you; here we must remain. Shall our presence conduce to the welfare, peace, and prosperity of the State, or to be the cause of dissention, discord and irritation? We must be a constant trouble in the State until it extends to us equal and exact justice.

Then place justice and equality in your constitution and laws--in your halls of legislation, in your schools and colleges. Let equality of rights be the foundations of our institutions. Let the rich and the poor, the black and the white, the learned and the ignorant, stand on the broad platform of legal equality. Then strife and discord will cease, peace will be placed upon an enduring foundation, and our people, now divided and hostile, will dwell together in unity and power.

C. H. Langston, Chairman
Lieut. W. D. Matthews
John Butler
Daniel Stone
T.J. Baskerville

Source: Kansas Tribune, October 28, 1866, p. 2.


The integration of Portland's public schools became one of the first test cases of post Civil War black freedom in the West when in 1867, William Brown, a black Portland shoemaker, attempted to enroll his four children in the city's public school. The following is an account of the response of Portland school officials as recalled by Thomas Alexander Wood, a EuroAmerican Methodist minister who tried to help Brown and other African American parents. Wood's account recalled the date of the incident inaccurately, it was 1867 rather than 1865, Moreover, his conclusion that "the colored people were made happy" with the compromise he worked out with school officials allowing for a segregated school, was also called into question by the continuing efforts blacks parents made to integrate the system. Their efforts were finally successful in 1874, when the school board reversed its 1867 decision and allowed thirty black children to enroll in the public schools. Otherwise Wood's recollection of the 1867 events is confirmed by school board minutes and newspaper sources.

In 1864 or 65 as near as I can remember a colored man named Brown, a book and shoe maker, came and begged me to assist him to get his children into the Public schools. He had tried the Directors and they refused to admit them. He had also sent his children to the school and they had been sent home. I found in all, sixteen colored children of proper school age in the District. I met the Directors who recognized the claim of these colored children, but said, "If we admit them, then next year we will have no money to run the schools."

They however made this proposition: "It cost us $2.25 per quarter for each child in school. Now we will allow the colored people $2.25 for each child they send to school each quarter, and they can get a house and hire their own teacher." This I positively declined for them, and gave these reasons. "The rent of a school or rooms for the school would cost $15.00 per month or $45.00 per quarter, not counting fuel. A teacher would cost $50.00 per month or $150.00 per quarter. That would amount to $195.00. You propose to allow for the 16 children $2.25 each or $35.00.

The colored people would have to put up $160.00 out of their own pockets. That is unfair. They are by law entitled to enter the public school. What is more they pay taxes to support the school, and we will say this, if you will rent a house and employ a competent [sic] teacher, the colored people will send the children to this separate school, but you must pay all the bills the same as you now do at the other schools."

This they declared they would not do. I told them we would make them admit the children to the public schools, and left them and the question as above stated unsettled. We then went to Dave Logan, Atty. at Law [and former Portland mayor] and commenced an action against the Directors to compel them to admit these colored children.

On the following day I met Mr. Failing the chairman of the Board of Directors, and he gave me a "going over," that amused me, while his temper was at a "white heat." Among other things he said to me were: "If it was not for you we would have induced them to take the $2.25." When I appealed to his better nature and explained that such a proposition was not fair or honest, he would dodge to the policy of the question at issue. I told him there was too much principal [sic] and too much right and wrong involved to admit or consider for a moment, the question of policy. "Do right though the Heavens fall."

The case never came to Court as these same Directors rented a suitable house on 4th and Columbia Street and employed a teacher at the expense of the school fund. And the colored people were made happy.

Source: Thomas Alexander Wood, "First Admission of Colored Children to the Portland Schools," Manuscript 37, Oregon Historical Society


The following article, titled "Let Us Rejoice," appeared in the San Francisco Elevator marking the occasion of the ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The grand work is accomplished. Over three-fourths of the States of this Union have ratified the Fifteenth Amendment, proposed by the last Congress, which gives us political freedom, as the Emancipation Proclamation gave us personal freedom. This is but the culmination of that immortal edict, the glorious consummation of a series of liberal and progressive legislation. This consummation was inevitable. Without this, all previous legislation amounted to nothing. The freedom which the Proclamation conferred, and the 13th Amendment confirmed, would have been nullified by the law-making portion of the Southern States, and the freedman would have been as much in the power of his former master as ever. With this Amendment enforced, our brethren in the South have the means of asserting their rights, and defending themselves against the perpetuity of wrong.

As an evidence of how highly we appreciate this law, preparations are making probably in every State of the Union to celebrate the event with appropriate ceremonies. The rejoicing will not be confined wholly to colored men, but every true-hearted honest Republican will rejoice with us that the day has arrived when we can proudly proclaim ourselves American citizens, and can enjoy all the rights, privileges and immunities thereunto appertaining.

The colored citizens of Virginia City, Nev., are determined to have a glorious time on this occasion. They have invited our friend William H. Hall to deliver the oration. That it will be a splendid effort worthy [of] his fame and the occasion, we feel assured. We congratulate the Virginians on having secured the services of so able a representative of our race.

The Republicans of Yreka intend showing their joy when the news arrives, by celebrating the event. This, of course, means white men, for we do not think there are many colored men in Yreka, having no subscribers to the Elevator there.

In the Eastern States and cities it will likewise be celebrated, and doubtless shouts of joy will resound from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the lakes to the gulf. San Francisco will not be backward. A large and enthusiastic meeting was held on Wednesday evening to make suitable arrangements for having a grand celebration. It was one of the largest, and most harmonious meetings we ever attended in San Francisco. At an early hour, the Lecture Room of Bethel Church was crowded. One feeling and one sentiment pervaded the entire assemblage. Elder Morgan electrified them with his thrilling eloquence, and all seemed determined to meet on a united platform.

Another meeting will be held next Wednesday evening in the same place, when we hope every colored person in this city, male and female, will attend.

Source: San Francisco Elevator, February 18, 1870, p. 2.


Helena Montana's African Americans, like their counterparts throughout the United States acclaimed the passage of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. In 1870 they wrote the local newspaper, the Helena Daily Herald, announcing their celebration. Given the subsequent events of the remainder of the Nineteenth Century in the South and in Montana, their celebration of the removal of the "stigmatizing qualifications" on their citizenship would prove premature.


We, the colored citizens of Helena, feeling desirous of showing our high appreciation of those God-like gifts granted to us by and through the passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, and knowing, as we do, that those rights which have been withheld from us, are now submerged and numbered with the things of the past, now thank God, is written and heralded to the wide world that we are free men and citizens of the United States--shorn of all those stigmatizing qualifications which have made us beasts. To-day, thank God, and the Congress of the United States, that we, the colored people of the United States, possess all those rights which God, in His infinite wisdom, conveyed and gave unto us.

Now, we, the citizens of Helena, in the Territory of Montana, in mass assembled, on the 14th of April, A.D. 1870, do, by these presents, declare our intentions of celebrating the ratification of the 15th Amendment, on this 15th day of April, by the firing of thirty-two guns, from the hill and to the south of the city.

J.R. JOHNSON, Secretary

Source: Helena Daily Herald, April 15, 1870.


In the following account, Nevada historian Elmer R. Rusco describes the life of Dr. W.H.C. Stephenson, the only African American physician in Nevada, or the far west, in the 1860s.

Nevada's small black population during the 19th Century included a physician who practiced on the Comstock for at least 12 years. Dr. W.H.C. Stephenson was also an outstanding and respected leader of his African American community and of the wider community of the preeminent mining and population center during this critical period in Nevada's early history. In addition to his medical contributions, he took the lead in protesting racial discrimination.

We do not know where Dr. Stephenson received his training, although apparently he was from Rhode Island. In 1867 he wrote that "I am...a practicing physician and have my diploma and passed a successful examination before entering upon the practice of medicine." In 1868 he wrote that he had been practicing medicine for 20 years; if that is correct he must have become a physician around 1848, when he would have been 23 years old.

We know that he was living in Sacramento and Marysville in 1862 or 1863. He first appears in a Comstock directory in 1863... The same directory lists him as a trustee and clerk for the First Baptist (Colored) Church, which was organized April 26, 1863. This was the first Baptist church on the Comstock. For the next 12 or 13 years Dr. Stephenson practiced medicine on the Comstock, mostly in Virginia City but also in Gold Hill, Silver City, and Dayton... Various sources list his office in Virginia City, usually on C. Street [between 1864 and 1875]. In an 1878 directory his wife was listed as living at the 120 South C Street address which he had used as an office.

Nevada's first black physician was obviously well educated and quite intelligent, as a number of letters to the editor and his leadership in various community matters attest. In 1870, when black men were allowed to vote for the first time after the 15th Amendment became part of the U.S. Constitution, Dr. Stephenson and other black Nevadans registered to vote. The Territorial Enterprise reported that "a person of lighter skin but darker heart refused to register because he would not place his name under the Doctor's." The newspaper offered the opinion that Stephenson would not have objected to placing his name after that of this man because "Dr. Stephenson has intelligence enough to see that it would not detract from him to have his name follow that of an inferior."

In a vigorous attack on the school law [excluding black students] in 1870, the physician reported the taxes that he had paid during 1869 and protested that the exclusion of black [students] from the public schools was grossly unfair and a violation of the "right to an equal protection of the laws...and equal school rights with the Anglo-Saxon." He suggest that the question was whether "people of color" were "as human beings, entitled to any school privileges whatever." The 1870 census of population reported that Dr. Stephenson and his wife Jane had a daughter who was 13...and no doubt his own child was one of the children not allowed to attend public schools.

In short, W.H.C. Stephenson was not only a physician on the Comstock for a decade and a half but was also an early advocate of human rights in the state. He deserves to be remembered for those achievements.

Source: Elmer R. Rusco, "A Black Doctor on the Comstock, Greasewood Tablettes (Department of Pathology, University of Nevada School of Medicine, 9:2 (Summer 1998), pp. 1-3.


Henry O. Wagoner, Jr., the twenty year old son of one of black Denver's leading civil rights advocates, was given the rare privilege of addressing an audience gathered to celebrate the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. Wagoner congratulated the audience and praised those who had fought for the amendment but he also warned of the civic responsibilities that accompany the newly won voting rights. Part of his address is reprinted below.

Mr. President and Fellow Citizens: My own youthful appearance will naturally suggest the improbability of my being a public speaker of either experience or ability, and hence an extended apology would be needless repetition of what is already apparent. But the occasion is one well calculated to move even the most subtle and most timid from silence. I see before me a vast audience of my fellow people, glowing with enthusiasm, and I am inclined to ask what is the cause of this meeting? For what purpose are we assembled here tonight? Is it to give aid and comfort to some runaway slave? Is it to adopt resolutions declaring the existence of rights whose exercise we are unjustly denied? Is it to appoint representatives to be sent to state capitals, there to plead our cause... Is it to give expression to our utter horror and indignation at some violence perpetrated on the person or property of some of our fellow people?

No sir. No such objects as these bring us here tonight. No longer must we come together stealthily by night to give relief to fugitive slaves. No more need we send champions of our rights to state capitals or national conventions; for the reason no longer exists. No more do we hear the heart rending cry of poor mortals bleeding under the lash.... Such things....happily for ourselves, happily for our posterity...are doomed to exist only in the memories and records of the past.

We are here tonight for thanksgiving and rejoicing at the ratification of the fifteenth amendment to the constitution of the United States, whereby manhood and fealty are made the conditions of suffrage irrespective of color, race or creed...

The consummation which we celebrate is of great practical importance. It adds, instantaneously, nearly a quarter of a million voters.... This act is the completion of one of the greatest reforms ever accomplished by any nation. The revolution has been vast, rapid, grand. The despised chattel of 1860 is the respected voter of today.

To the colored Americans, among the proudest recollections of the past will be the part they took in their own deliverance. They may justly boast that they did not remain passive observers of the great struggle for freedom and national existence. In the dark hours of the nation's gloom, when a cloud of despair rested all over this broad land, when the Union party at last consented, if triumphant, to "break the yoke and let the oppressed go free;" then did the sable sons of America rally at the call of the chief, and spill their life-blood in defense of the flags of their country, which had hitherto been to them an ensign of tyranny, but now the palladium of their rights. The negro soldiers have won for themselves an undying fame for valor and patriotism by their valiant conduct at a Fort Pillow, a Fort Wagner, and a Pittsburg.

But while we dwell upon the struggles of the past and the triumphs of today, let us not forget the duties of tomorrow. Long indulged prejudice can not be legislated away, and in the exercise of our new privilege we will be jealously watched. In a government like ours no race or set of men who are deficient in intellectual attainments can hope to retain power or to exercise any considerable influence in shaping public affairs any more than a single individual can expect to rise to a position of honor...who is destitute of these qualities.... It behooves us, then, to look well to our mental cultivation. Be studious and ever ready to receive and impart instruction. See to it that your children are provided with ample schools and competent teachers, and assist them, by all means in your power, in gaining a good education, which will enable them to become good, wise and great; thus you and they will live to a good and noble purpose and honor God....

Source: Denver Rocky Mountain News, May 4, 1870, p. 2.


The two articles below suggest the range of opinion in the Pacific Northwest concerning black voting. The first article in the Vancouver, Washington Territory Register, recognizing the prejudice against black voting even in the North, cautions patience and restraint among African Americans and their supporters who want the ballot. Four years later, upon passage of the Fifteenth Amendment in 1870, the Olympia Commercial Age noted that blacks were already voting in the Territory and suggested that their participation nationally would help the Republican Party.

We believe the heaven-born principle of equal rights will eventually triumph and more speedily than is generally supposed. The triumph of freedom in the suppression of the late slaveholder's rebellion, may, and will in the future, we fully believe, be regarded as an era from which light and knowledge will spread more rapidly than in the past and human progress go forward with accelerated speed.. We concur heart and soul in the glorious and heaven-born principle which recognized the equal natural right of each and every human being born into the world to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." But with regard to suffrage we agree with President Johnson that it is a political and not a natural right, and while we believe the view which excludes a man from the polls on account of his color is narrow and full of bigotry and will ever meet the disapproval of the Great Ruler of Nations, we still believe that the experience through which we have passed, and the difficulties which lie before us are calculated to impressively suggest the propriety and necessity of placing a higher estimate upon the use of the ballot box; and we think the time is not far distant when the public sentiment of this nation will triumphantly demand that loyalty and a certain degree of intelligence, and not color, shall be the test of admission to this high privilege... Yet we hope our friends will take warning. Rash precipitation seldom accomplishes any good result. Better "make haste slowly," keep "pegging away," but bide your time. The heaven-born principle of equal rights will eventually triumph...

* * *

Although the Fifteenth Amendment does not particularly affect us in this Territory, as the colored folks have been voters among us for sometime already, yet it will be a matter of much importance in both Oregon and California... If the Democratic party persists in its long time inveterate hostility to the negro, some of the closely divided states will in all probability be insured to the Republicans by the negro vote. Among these states we may mention Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Ohio. But will the Democratic party be so stupid as to drive these new voters en masse into the Republican fold? We doubt it. On the contrary, we expect to see that party making special efforts to win these voters enough of them, at least, to divide their strength. But, if the Republicans are true to themselves and their principles, they will have a decided advantage over their opponents in this struggle at least, so far as the more intelligent of the negroes are concerned.

The negroes know, of course, that they owe their enfranchise¬ment to the Republican party, while they have every reason for regarding the other party with aversion and distrust. But they cannot all be expected to take the highest view of their obligations as citizens; and many of them, will, no doubt, be ready to fall into the snares which unscrupulous Democrats will be sure to lay in their path. The Republicans, moreover, are by no means all saints, nor all entirely exempt from the spirit of estate. Mean men in this party, as in the other, will, no doubt, continue to behave shabbily toward the new made voters, thus helping the Democrats to "divide that they may conquer."

It will be a happy day for the country when the people shall no more care to inquire whether a voter or a candidate for office is white or black than whether he is tall or short."

Sources: The Vancouver Register, January 27, 1866, p. 1; Olympia, Commercial Age, March 26, 1870, p. 1.


The debate over black voting rights occasionally extended beyond the boundaries of the United States as when the Honolulu Friend, an English-language Hawaiian newspaper urged in 1865 that suffrage be granted to the newly freed slaves. Its editorial, reprinted in the San Francisco Elevator, appears below.

In glancing over the files of the American papers, the most prominent question of discussion appears to be the status of the negro. Shall he, or shall he not be admitted to all the civil and political rights of the white inhabitants? This is the question. Of course there is a great difference of opinion upon the subject. Such men as Chief Justice Chase, Senator Sumner, and a host of leading men of the Republican party, take the ground that the negro should now be permitted to vote and enjoy all the privileges of the white population.

In our opinion these men occupy the only consistent and correct ground. The negro has nobly fought for the country, and now not to allow him all the rights and privileges enjoyed by his fellow soldiers would be wrong. A loyal negro, true to his country and the flag, is surely as good a citizen as a rebel, although he [the rebel] may have recently take the oath of allegiance.

We hope Americans will start aright this time. Give the colored man a fair start, and let him try for himself. We believe most fully in the doctrine that all men should enjoy equal civil and political rights. The tendency is towards that point in all lands. Revolutions go not backward.

Source: The Honolulu Friend, reprinted in the San Francisco Elevator, October 13, 1865, p. 1.


In the following vignette Elizabeth McLagan describes the Oregon legislature's response to the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U. S. Constitution.

During the Civil War the [Oregon] legislature passed the last anti-black state laws, with the exception of the ban on intermarriage passed in 1866. Between 1866 and 1872, the legislature was required to consider ratification of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which gave citizenship to black people and the right to vote to black men. It was clear, however, that these amendments were unpopular with most Oregonians.... The Oregon Statesman, in an editorial published [in 1865], predicted that giving the vote to blacks would have a revolutionary influence on society.... Full suffrage would result in a "war of the races," the editorial concluded.

If we make the African a citizen, we cannot deny the same right to the Indian or the Mongolian (the Chinese, Japanese and other Asians). Then how long would we have peace and prosperity when four races separate, distinct and antagonistic should be at the polls and contend for the control of government?

The 1866 Legislature, still controlled by the [Republicans] but with a strong minority of Democrats, considered and ratified the Fourteenth Amendment, although the vote was close.... The Democrats made two attempts to withdraw ratification but....these attempts failed.

This legislature also passed another law prohibiting intermarriage. It was directed not only against white/black marriages, but against anyone with "one-fourth or more Negro, Chinese or [Hawaiian] blood, or any person having more than one half Indian blood. It passed with little debate the combined vote was 47 in favor, 8 opposed and 3 absent. The penalty for disobeying the law was a prison sentence of not less than three months, or up to one year in jail. Any person authorized to conduct marriages who broke the law by marrying two people illegally was subject to the same penalty, with an additional $1,000 fine. This law was not repealed until 1951.

The legislator's reluctance to endorse the Fourteenth Amendment was the subject of debate in the local press as well. In 1867, the Eugene Weekly Democratic Review printed a vicious attack on black people.

....gaping, bullet pated, thick lipped, wooly headed, animal-jawed crowd of niggers, the dregs of broken up plantations, idle and vicious blacks, released from wholesome restraints of task masters and overseers.... Greasy, dirty, lousy, they drowsily look down upon the assembled wisdom of a dissevered Union. Sleepily listen to legislators who have given them their freedom and now propose to invest them with the highest privileges of American citizenship.

Because of its rabid pro-South rhetoric, this paper had been suppressed during the Civil War.

In 1868, another attempt was made to repeal ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, declared to be ratified nationally only six weeks previously. This time the repeal passed in both chambers by a combined vote of 39 to 27. This session also recalled Oregon Senators George H. Williams and Henry W. Corbett, criticized for their support of Reconstruction. Williams was also active in the campaign to impeach President Andrew Johnson, who had become the hero of the Democratic Party for his opposition to Reconstruction. The legislature was not deluded into thinking that its actions would make any difference; the Oregonian predicted that if copies of the resolutions ever reached Congress they would probably be used to light someone's cigar....

The Fifteenth Amendment was proposed, ratified and declared in force by Congress between Oregon's 1868 and 1870 legislative sessions.... The legislative session of 1870....declared the Fifteenth Amendment was "an infringement on popular rights and a direct falsification of the pledges made to the state of Oregon by the federal government." The Fifteenth Amendment was finally ratified by the centennial legislature of 1959.

Although Oregon refused to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment, a state Supreme Court decision rendered in 1870 affirmed the right of black men to vote. The case involved the election of a county commissioner in Wasco County, and C.H. Yates and W.S. Ford, two black men who had voted.... That same year the Oregonian, which five years earlier had opposed the Fifteen Amendment, ran an editorial which admitted:

There are but a few colored men in Oregon, and their political influence cannot be great. But these here are, as a rule, quiet, industrious and intelligent citizens. We cannot doubt they will exercise intelligently the franchise with which they are newly invested.

Resistance to accepting the black vote....was overcome not by a change in attitude, but because Oregonians realized that federal civil rights legislation had to be acknowledged, if not endorsed. By 1870, change was inevitable, so Oregonians acquiesced. Blacks were granted civil rights under the terms imposed by the federal government, without the endorsement of the state legislature. Oregon's black population was small and posed little threat to the established order. The period of enacting racist legislation had ended, but it would be many years before the legislature would begin to take an interest in passing laws that would allow black people to enjoy equal rights as citizens of the state.

Source: Elizabeth McLagan, A Peculiar Paradise: A History of Blacks in Oregon, 1788-1940 (Portland, 1980), pp. 68-74.


In an 1869 speech in Boston, Frederick Douglass challenged most social observers and politicians (including most African Americans) by advocating the acceptance of Chinese immigration. Part of his argument is presented below.

I have said that the Chinese will come... Do you ask, if I favor such immigration, I answer I would. Would you have them naturalized, and have them invested with all the rights of American citizenship? I would. Would you allow them to vote? I would. Would you allow them to hold office? I would.

But are there not reasons against all this? Is there not such a law or principle as that of self-preservation? Does not every race owe something to itself..? Should not a superior race protect itself from contact with inferior ones? Are not the white people the owners of this continent...? Is it best to take on board more passengers than the ship will carry? To all of this and more I have one among many answers, together satisfactory to me, though I cannot promise that it will be so to you.

I submit that this question of Chinese immigration should be settled upon higher principles than those of a cold and selfish expediency. There are such things in the world as human rights. They rest upon no conventional foundation, but are external, universal, and indestructible. Among these, is the right of...migration; the right which belongs to no particular race, but belongs alike to all and to all alike. It is the right you assert by staying here, and your fathers asserted by coming here. It is this great right that I assert for the Chinese and Japanese, and for all other varieties of men equally with yourselves, now and forever. I know of no rights of race superior to the rights of humanity, and when there is a conflict between human and national rights, it is safe to go to the side of humanity... I reject the arrogant and scornful theory by which they would limit migratory rights, or any other essential human rights to themselves, and which would make them the owners of this great continent to the exclusion of all other races of men.

I want a home here not only for the negro, the mulatto and the Latin races; but I want the Asiatic to find a home here in the United States, and feel at home here, both for his sake and for ours... If respect is had to majorities, the fact that only one fifth of the population of the globe is white, the other four fifths are colored, ought to have some weight and influence in disposing of this and similar questions... If the white race may exclude all other races from this continent, it may rightfully do the same in respect to all other lands...and thus have all the world to itself...

The apprehension that we shall be swamped or swallowed up by Mongolian civilization...does not seem entitled to much respect. Thought they come as the waves come, we shall be stronger if we receive them as friends and give them a reason for loving our country and our institutions. They will find here a deeply rooted, indigenous, growing civilization, augmented by an ever-increasing stream of immigration from Europe.... They will come as strangers. We are at home. They will come to us, not we to them. They will come in their weakness, we shall meet them in our strength...and with all the advantages of organization. Chinese children are in American schools in San Francisco. None of our children are in Chinese schools, and probably never will be... Contact with these yellow children...would convince us that the points of human difference, great as they, upon first sight, seem, are as nothing compared with the points of human agreement. Such contact would remove mountains of prejudice.

The voice of civilization speaks an unmistakable language against the isolation of families, nations and races, and pleads for composite nationality as essential to her triumphs. Those races of men which have... had the least intercourse with other races of men, are a standing confirmation of the folly of isolation. The very soil of the national mind becomes in such cases barren, and can only be resuscitated by assistance from without.

Source: Philip S. Foner and Daniel Rosenberg, eds., Racism, Dissent, and Asian Americans from 1850 to the Present: A Documentary History (Westport, Conn., 1993), pp. 223-226.